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Minnesota SWCD Partners to Advance Firewise Outreach

Carlton Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) is launching a Firewise program with the goal of educating landowners on defensible space and forest management in Minnesota.

In September, the SWCD gathered with representatives from the Chub Lake Association, the first target area, offering outreach about the program and gauging interest in site evaluations and fire mitigation plan implementation.

“It’s all about the defensible space and things you can do to protect your home,” Carlton SWCD District Manager Brad Matlack said. “That’s where we’re going to take it a little further than handing a landowner a brochure. We will use a traditional conservation practice style plan to identify things from a Firewise perspective: what homeowners can do and how to mitigate those risks.”

Partnering with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Carlton County and Dovetail Partners, the SWCD received a $10,000 grant through AIM Co. to kick off the program this fall. Dovetail Partners will mentor SWCD staff to assist landowners with best practices on how to build resiliency on their property in case of wildfire. The SWCD also will help coordinate fuel mitigation activities following the plan that is provided to landowners of each assessed site.

The goal, Matlack said, is for Dovetail Partners to provide enough support that after a year, Carlton County could have a standalone Firewise program through the SWCD.

The initial outreach began this month in the hopes of reaching about a quarter of the lake association’s 90 residences. Already, a handful have signed on for evaluations. Carlton SWCD is also working with contractors interested in providing chipping services. The conservation district is managing a request for bids for the brush chipping to support homeowners who need a way to dispose of the materials generated from the fuels reduction work.

In addition, the SWCD recently completed a drone flight to capture video to use in a Firewise promotional video. Social media publicity campaigns also are in planning stages, he said.

Matlack said he hopes to spread the program across communities quickly, and recent wildfire occurrences like the Greenwood Fire nearby, which has burned more than 27,000 acres to date, may influence landowners’ thoughts on the need to participate in the program.

“I’d like to move toward a community fire plan. I think the resources we need are partly there and just require some organized planning,” Matlack said. “While it is early in this project, there seems to be continued interest in this topic with all the various stakeholders we are engaging along the way.”

The Firewise program has been in the back of Matlack’s mind for the majority of the last 15 years, he said. Aside from the lack of capacity and time to develop and implement it, funding the effort was also a challenge.

The SWCD also is looking into biochar, which is what connected the district with Dovetail Partners. At a Carlton SWCD Board strategic planning meeting in 2019, Matlack offered up the potential for the Firewise program. Soon after, when Dovetail Partners was brought in to discuss biochar possibilities, Matlack said that if the SWCD had a Firewise program, perhaps biochar could be incorporated. Dovetail Partners indicated they could help with project funding, and this year was able to secure the grant for the Firewise project.

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